January 21, 2021

Sanctions by the Numbers: Spotlight on Russia

By ​Francis Shin

In the past decade, Russia has been the second-most sanctioned state by the United States, with 742 designations, surpassed only by Iran with 1,815 designations. However, unlike Iran, Russia has a much larger economy and hosts several internationally important companies, making sanctions on Russia more impactful on the global market, but also more difficult to calibrate. Sanctions on Russia increased substantially during the Obama administration compared to the prior rate of designations, primarily in response to Russia’s territorial aggression in Ukraine and illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014. The Trump administration continued imposing new sanctions on Russia, albeit at a much lower rate than the preceding Obama administration, which designated 458 entities and individuals with ties to Russia during Obama’s second term compared to 273 under Trump.

Before 2014, the United States had imposed relatively few sanctions on Russia, primarily targeting members of terrorist groups and transnational criminal organizations. However, in response to Russia’s territorial aggression in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea in 2014, the United States introduced numerous sanctions on Russia, designating 95 entities and individuals involved in Russia’s malign activity in Ukraine in 2014 and an additional 132 designations and 143 designations in 2015 and 2016, respectively. These sanctions made up the vast majority of sanctions on Russia during this time, accounting for 370 of the 429 Russia-related designations from 2014 to 2016, or over 86 percent.

During the Trump administration, the rate of new sanctions on Russia slowed but took on a broader focus, with new sanctions targeting malign cyber activity, election interference, and Russia’s support for countries like North Korea. For example, new cyber sanctions on Russia-linked entities accounted for 69 designations during the Trump administration. The Trump administration issued 273 designations from 2017 through 2020 on Russia-linked individuals and entities, of which 131, or just under 48 percent, were related to Ukraine. Conversely, the second Obama administration issued 370 Ukraine-related designations, over 81 percent of the total 455 Russia-linked sanctions.

Sanctions Designations on Russia

Historical data from 2010–2020 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control

The U.S. Congress passed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in 2017, in part to further increase sanctions coverage on Russia and to ensure that the Trump administration did not scale back existing sanctions without congressional approval. However, Russia-related CAATSA sanctions have been limited to just 19 designations through the end of 2020, suggesting a lack of full utilization.

Russia-related Sanctions Outside of Russia

Historical data from 2014–2020 from the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control

Furthermore, after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and Congress expressed serious concerns about this threat, including introducing legislation to compel sanctions on Russia for election interference, Trump issued Executive Order 13848. This federal directive authorized sanctions on foreign entities responsible for election interference in the United States. To date, 13 designations have been made under this authority or others to address election interference, as it remains a serious concern in future U.S. elections.

Methodology

The following sanctions programs were included for calculating Russia sanctions totals:

MAGNIT, UKRAINE-EO13660, UKRAINE-EO13661, UKRAINE-EO13662, UKRAINE-EO13685, and CAATSA – RUSSIA. SDGT, TCO, IFSR, SYRIA, IRAN-EO13622, GLOMAG, CYBER2, ELECTION-EO13848, DPRK2, DPRK3, DPRK4, NPWMD, and VENEZUELA-EO13850 sanctions were only included when the designee either originated in or is closely affiliated with Russia.

The following sanctions programs were included for calculating Ukraine sanctions totals: UKRAINE-EO13660, UKRAINE-EO13661, UKRAINE-EO13662, and UKRAINE-EO13685. CYBER2, ELECTION-EO13848, and SYRIA sanctions were included when the designee is a Ukrainian entity or is closely affiliated with Ukraine.

This is the sixth installment in the Sanctions by the Numbers series. Click here to read the first installment on U.S. sanctions designations and delistings by Johnpatrick Imperiale, here to read the second installment on global distribution of U.S. sanctions by Abigail Eineman, here to read the third installment on Iran sanctions by Abigail Eineman, here to read the fourth installment on China sanctions by Francis Shin, and here to read the fifth installment reviewing 2020 sanctions designations by Sam Dorshimer and Francis Shin.

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The CNAS Sanctions by the Numbers series offers comprehensive analysis and graphical visualization of major patterns, changes, and developments in U.S. sanctions policy and economic statecraft. Members of the CNAS Energy, Economics, and Security Program collect and analyze data from publicly available government sources, such as the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Energy, Economics, & Security

Sanctions by the Numbers

About this series Each month, the Sanctions by the Numbers newsletter and series offers comprehensive analysis and visualization of major patterns, changes, and developments ...

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Authors

  • ​Francis Shin

    Former Intern, Energy, Economics, and Security Program

    Francis Shin is a former Joseph S. Nye intern for the Energy, Economics, and Security Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS)....

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